Projects within the Anti-Corona-Program at the Fraunhofer IST

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The corona pandemic presents major challenges for society, the economy and science. The common goal is to find a way out of the crisis as quickly as possible, the protection of humans must thereby remain the top priority. The scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films IST in Braunschweig are also providing an important contribution through their developments, by activating their networks, developing project ideas and supporting industry and society in their endeavors to cope with the direct effects and subsequent outcomes. A number of projects are thereby directly supported by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft using internal funds within the framework of the central action program “Fraunhofer vs. Corona”.

The following projects provide an overview of the current activities of the Fraunhofer IST on the topic of corona:


Decentralized mobile medical care

In the current corona pandemic, it must be possible for system-relevant professions to be practiced without restriction and the challenge of the medical treatment and care of COVID-19 patients must be met. Treatment beds with ventilators, access to sterile medical equipment, disinfected surfaces and the consequently necessary infrastructure are currently crucial. As a result of the high number of infections and people requiring treatment parallel to the regular daily workload, hospitals are reaching the limits of their capabilities. Simultaneously, due to a lack of hygienic prerequisites, the risk of a further rapid spread of COVID-19 is particularly high in many developing and emerging nations. The situation is particularly precarious in urban areas, slums and overcrowded refugee camps, where very little medical care is available. The focus of the cluster project “Dezentrale mobile medizinische Versorgung” (Decentralized mobile medical care), Demo-medVer for short, in which six Fraunhofer institutes are pooling their expertise, is directed at the development of systemically integrated medical care for the population during pandemics and in the event of crisis and disaster.

Disinfection and sterilization

The Fraunhofer IST is working on the partial aspects of disinfection and sterilization within the framework of the “MATSE” and “OzoSter” projects. Based on the experience gained through decentralized and autonomous water treatment, amongst others in South African countries, and the production of disinfectants by means of diamond electrodes, the Institute is developing a diamond electrode-based system for surface disinfection using hypochlorite with the aim of providing a mobile, self-sufficient test platform for utilization in emerging and developing countries. Furthermore, the IST is addressing the development of an electrode- or plasma-based spray system, which can also be used as a mobile and self-sufficient unit for the sterilization of surfaces by means of ozonated water.

Project partners: Fraunhofer IFF (project coordination), Fraunhofer ICT, Fraunhofer IFAM/IFAM-DD, Fraunhofer IGB, Fraunhofer ISE

Project start: September 2020

Contact persons: Frank Neumann, Kristina Lachmann, Lothar Schäfer


Mobile disinfektion

In order to overcome the corona crisis and the anticipated “new normal”, it is essential to minimize the risk of infection through infected persons. Contact infections, resulting from touching contaminated surfaces, present a relevant transmission path. In the project “Mobile Disinfection”, MobDi for short, twelve Fraunhofer institutes and centers are developing technologies for mobile disinfection robots which disinfect potentially contaminated surfaces such as door handles and light switches in a targeted, efficient and careful manner. The robots recognize the material from which an object to be cleaned consists and the extent to which it has been soiled. According to this information, the robots select the disinfection method. For this purpose, the project is developing tools, e.g. for disinfection by wiping, spraying, UV or plasma, as well as a tool-changing system and is testing the technologies in public buildings and in public-transport vehicles. In addition, a robot for flexible, hygienic material transport in hospitals is being developed.

The core task of the Fraunhofer IST in this project is the development of a modular plasma system which works at atmospheric pressure and which can be integrated into mobile disinfection robots. Further focal points include the optimization of the efficiency of the disinfection process and the evaluation of the damage to surfaces caused by the different cleaning methods. As a result, the cleaning process can be made as effective as possible and, at the same time, be gentle on the material.

Project partners: Fraunhofer IPA (Project coordination), Fraunhofer IMW, Fraunhofer IOSB, Fraunhofer IFAM, Fraunhofer FEP, Fraunhofer IOF, Fraunhofer IWS, Fraunhofer IPM, Fraunhofer ILT, Fraunhofer IVV, Fraunhofer Italia

Project start: Oktober 2020

Contact persons: Michael ThomasKristina Lachmann


Methods for validating the functional capability of FFP2 breathing masks for re-use following sterilization

At the beginning of the corona pandemic, there was a lack of suitable protective clothing and, in particular, respiratory masks of the classifications FFP2 and FFP3 in sufficient quantities for medical staff and care workers. Furthermore, prices have risen sharply during the course of the pandemic.

A sustainable possibility for counteracting this shortage and simultaneously reducing costs is to sterilize masks by means of hydrogen peroxide sterilization in combination with a plasma process, thereby enabling multiple re-use. An important prerequisite in this respect is suitable test procedures with which not only sterilization effects but also the particle permeability and the tightness of the material following sterilization can be tested in a valid and reproducible manner.

In collaboration with the Municipal Hospital Braunschweig (Städtisches Klinikum Braunschweig), the Fraunhofer IST is pursuing this approach to creating the possibility of safe multiple use of FFP2 masks and has launched the “ReUse-FFP2” project in order to further develop this procedure and to validate the results.

Project partner: Municipal Hospital Braunschweig (Städtisches Klinikum Braunschweig)

Project launch: May 2020

Contact partner: Dr. Kristina Lachmann


Functional surfaces for the optimal and safe evaluation of ultra-fast PCR systems for the execution of SARS-CoV-2 tests

The most reliable detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus up to now has been carried out using swabs taken from the mouth, nose or throat. For this purpose, the “real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction” (RT-PCR) is applied. With the aid of so-called ultra-fast PCR, the virus can be detected in a considerably shorter time. This fast system enables almost 23,000 tests to be performed on a single day, whereas the diagnostic capacity of the standard RT-PCR system is limited to around 100 tests per day. Film-based systems are thereby used in which minimal amounts of liquid are present in tiny cells. Due to the lack of wettability of the film surface, the read-out of the test is, however, very susceptible to errors, as half-moon-shaped spots are formed which vary significantly in shape and size. In order to achieve reproducibility and reliability by means of a complete illumination of the spot, the project “Surfaces4PCR” is aimed at making the films completely and permanently wettable by structuring the surface in combination with a location-selective functionalization.

In collaboration with the Municipal Hospital Braunschweig (Städtisches Klinikum Braunschweig), these modified films are to be tested and optimized directly on the ultra-fast RT-PCR system available at the hospital.

Project partner: Municipal Hospital Braunschweig (Städtisches Klinikum Braunschweig)

Project launch: July 2020

Contact partner: Dr. Kristina Lachmann


Intelligent virus filter for SARS-CoV-2 patients

Patients with a severe case of COVID-19 infection which, in the majority of cases, is accompanied by pneumonia, must often be artificially ventilated, either non-invasively or in the intensive care unit. In order to ensure optimal treatment and to determine the point at which artificial ventilation becomes necessary and how long non-invasive ventilation will still be sufficient, reliable monitoring of the respiration is necessary. Both the affected patients and the medical staff should be given the best possible protection against a virus infection. An intelligent virus filter, which can be used for both non-invasive and invasive ventilation, should make this protection possible. In addition to the respiratory flow, pressure is also an important measured variable. The Fraunhofer IST develops thin-film sensors for pressure measurement. These are inexpensive to manufacture and can be easily integrated, enabling thin-film sensor technology to offer starting points for simplified solutions. In the “Filter4Flow” project, scientists from the Fraunhofer institutes IIS, ITEM and IST, in cooperation with the companies Aircontrols and ELK, are developing this type of smart virus filter - a novel combination of fast sensor elements for measuring respiratory flow, pressure and respiratory gas in conjunction with a virus filter. The signals should hereby be digitalized and transmitted quickly and cable-free to a respiratory system or a patient-monitoring device (e.g. app). The intelligent virus filter is intended to enable accurate, reliable and, at the same time, inexpensive monitoring of the respiration of a large number of patients whilst simultaneously providing a filter function for the protection of patients and personnel against infection, thereby preventing bottlenecks in ventilation units.

Project partners: Fraunhofer ITEM, Fraunhofer IIS, Aircontrols, ELK

Project launch: May 2020

Contact partner: Dr. Michael Thomas


Reduction of the risk of infection in the public environment through anti-viral functional films

As a result of the corona pandemic, the feeling of insecurity amongst the general public is increasing, as is their simultaneous desire for greater protection against potential infection through contact with surfaces with which people constantly come into contact in everyday life.

In the “InVirSchicht” project, the Fraunhofer IST is working on a virus-killing coating as an alternative to wipe disinfection. The requirements for this type of coating for objects such as handles on shopping trolleys, handrails in buses and trains or door handles on shops and doctors’ surgeries involve two main criteria: firstly, the coating must exhibit a long-lasting virus-killing effect and, secondly, it must not wear away in daily use. In addition, it must be economically producible and it must also be possible to integrate it into existing manufacturing processes using appropriate methods.

The Fraunhofer IST has comprehensive experience in the development of very thin wear-resistant hard-material coatings. Through the utilization of antiviral additives, the development of film systems which have a virus-killing effect is to be realized.

Project launch: May 2020

Contact partner: Dr. Ralf Bandorf


Plasma-based disinfection of room air for flexible application in hospitals and transport vehicles

Rooms and corridor areas in hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and care homes are particularly subject to contamination through pathogens. The risk of infection for medical staff and patients is extreme here. A mobile device which effectively destroys viruses, bacteria and fungi in the room air and, furthermore, also reduces the pathogens on the surfaces within the room could diminish the risk of infection. In this regard, knowledge of the dynamics of bio-aerosols is of crucial importance for the development of effective measures for decontaminating indoor spaces and protecting against infection.

The calculation of particle dynamics is thereby particularly relevant, as deposition occurs according to the particle-size distribution. Together with the Fraunhofer WKI the Fraunhofer IST is therefore focusing on the calculation and simulation of the flow dynamics of bio-aerosols in indoor areas with the aim of developing a controlled plasma air-purifier on the basis of the calculation results.

Project partners: Fraunhofer WKI

Project launch: June 2020

Contact partner: Dr. Andreas Pflug